Is it time to start thinking of brands as operating systems?

Entrepreneurial Child

Entrepreneurial Child

An interesting concept to get one’s head around is that brands are no longer mere brands with various sets of communication and touch points. They have evolved in such a way that they have been integrated into people’s lives; their messaging has become entwined in everyday conversation and the brand itself has become the experience.

It’s fair to say that brands have evolved to such a degree that the products and services they offer have become part of day to day life. As such they have become operating systems in their own right.

Brands as operating systems — what does that actually mean?

It means that the consumer doesn’t choose how they want to engage with a brand, but the brand becomes the foundation of their experience. Consumers don’t think to themselves “Today I only want to experience / engage with Coke in digital channels”. This is one of the downfalls of marketers as they tend to see customer experiences in isolation, by channel, whereas customers evaluate their experiences cumulatively.

If the brand is the underlying operating system for consumers, then instead of integrating it into aspects of the consumer’s life, consumers start to integrate themselves into different parts of the brand.

If for example Adidas becomes your primary operating system, not only will the brand affect the types of shoes you wear, but it may affect the rest of your clothes as well. Possibly even where you hang out, what kind of content you consume, who your friends are and what you’re interested in. If Adidas supports your favourite sports team the brand is likely to resonate with you even more. Adidas then becomes part of the ‘team’. If you are invited to attend an exclusive Adidas event or party you’re likely to go there as opposed to somewhere else. And you’ll probably invite your friends to come along too. You’ll be more inclined to engage with Adidas on social media. Pay attention to their TV ads. Notice their billboards. If they have an app, you’ll download it. Read articles they publish, share them with your friends and comment and engage with other members of the Adidas community.

Suddenly, without knowing it Adidas has become the center of your universe and many of your decisions seem to revolve around the brand. You start to feel a part of Adidas and what it stands for, and you feel proud of that. Adidas starts to become entwined in your story, and a part of what defines you. You start to feel that Adidas allows you to succeed in various aspects of your life.

Brand adviser Tom Asacker describes a brand as “one, interdependent system of behaviour”.

In many organisations we see various departments striving to take control and dominate a specific territory in order to achieve their own objectives and influence customers in ways they believe the brand should be experienced.

The truth is that the customer experience is influenced by a wide range of factors, many of which are outside their control. Brands need to become story tellers and the customer needs to be the centre of each of their stories.

If one looks at a brand like Google, the brand itself has become and actual operating system in many everyday lives. Quite literally. One no longer says “Let me go and search for that on the internet”. More often than not we simply say “I’ll Google it”.

This is an example of how a brand has successfully integrated itself into everyday life and has become a part of everyday conversation and behaviour.

Every message, interaction and experience the customer has with the brand contributes to their own individual story and experience. How well the brand delivers in each of these areas will affect its perceived value and level of success.

Taking ownership of the customers’ sense of success
What people often fail to realize is that the ‘interface’ between the customer and the brand is affected by multiple factors, many of which are outside their control. All the various touch points accumulate to create one overarching brand experience.

Often driven by customer insights, marketers tend to focus on the access and manipulation of data in order to better understand who they are speaking to. The theory behind this is that the more they know about the customer, the better they will be able to communicate, and the greater the brand experience.

This however isn’t necessarily true. Customers don’t judge a brand on ‘how well they know them’. This doesn’t earn them brownie points. Customers judge a brand based on how it succeeds for them. So in the example of Adidas, a consumer won’t care if Adidas claims to have insights into what drives their purchase decisions. What they will care about is how well Adidas is able to provide value, help them achieve success — whether that success is equated to performance through wearing the product, or equipping them with knowledge or experiences that puts them a cut above the rest.

Make your brand succeed for your customers
If one understands the customer’s sense of success, then we can start turning traditional marketing on its head.

For a brand to be successful as an operating system, we need to stop thinking of individual channels, functions and communication points but rather how they work together to deliver on the overall brand experience. And allow the brand to enable or facilitate the success, whatever that might be, of the consumer.



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